The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is a country located in the Pacific Ocean, not far from Australia. Its area is smaller than Kyiv, and its population is slightly over 100,000 people. Nevertheless, it is the only state in the world, besides Ukraine, that broke off diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation after its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
President of the Center for Transatlantic Dialogue Maxim Skripchenko spoke with the President of this state, DAVID PANUELO, to find out how a country located tens of thousands of kilometers from us decided to quarrel with the largest state in the world and support Ukraine.
- Please describe the decision-making process in FSM – who was the first to initiate the severance of diplomatic relations?
Decision-making in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is often careful, calm, and collected, and is primarily focused on ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard. Once I have received input from my Cabinet and advisors, then I make a decision.
In or around December of 2021, I was informed by my relevant Cabinet and my Press Secretary regarding media reports about Russia invading Ukraine becoming an increasingly plausible scenario. From that point onward, I instructed my Special Assistant and Press Secretary to dutifully watch the topic as it gained traction.
Over the coming weeks and months, I would receive briefings on information releases by international media. In early February 2022, our Government became convinced that Russia was legitimately intending to invade Ukraine at some near-future date. It was recommended to me by my Cabinet that we should determine how the FSM would respond when the invasion formally began.
I solicited feedback from my Cabinet, as well as my staff, and from our diplomatic corps around the world. I asked them to describe the decisions they would make and their rationale for what those decisions would be, noting that their primary duty is to the truth, and to not be concerned with how I might react if I did not agree with their conclusions or the means with which they were reached.
I watched footage of Vladimir Putin publicly dressing-down his spymaster and other Ministers days before the invasion, and I watched footage of Vladimir Putin’s lengthy rambling about he would unilaterally recognize two new countries, which are part of Ukraine, as a justification for invasion.
Hours before the invasion began, I was about to board an airplane from Pohnpei State to Yap State, two islands in our country. When I arrived in Yap State, the war had begun. I perhaps already knew that in my capacity as Head of State and Head of Government I would sever relations with Russia for their brutal and unjustified invasion, but I wanted to avoid being rash myself, and so I had again asked for my Cabinet’s advice.
While some within our Government warned of potential repercussions from severing relations with Russia, such as that doing so might provoke retaliation by Russia, or that by doing so the FSM would stand out from other countries, we knew that we could not be silent, because silence is how evil flourishes. True leadership means standing up for what you know is right regardless of the cost, and, as a fellow democracy, it was clear that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people needed to urgently know that even people far away from them care about them and their situation, and stand with them in solidarity.
- FSM remains the only country to cut diplomatic ties with Russia except Ukraine. Without a doubt, it is a very strong position being highly appreciated by the Ukrainian people. Ukraine is so far away and, to be honest, our countries don’t have vast trade relations or common history. There would have been more economic sense to avoid severing diplomatic ties with Russia. What was your motivation towards this decision?
The FSM’s foreign policy is embedded in our Constitution—that we extend to all nations and peoples that which we seek: peace, friendship, cooperation, and love in our common humanity. On our national seal are the words “Peace, Unity, and Liberty”, which we take very seriously even in the best of times.
The world we are living in today is becoming increasingly hostile to democracy and democratic principles, including the rules-based international order and the rule of law. It is my assessment that democracy is not only essential for human prosperity, but also for tackling the greatest challenges of our times, such as Climate Change, and ensuring all people regardless of their background have the opportunity to live long, fulfilling, and genuinely happy lives.
By extension, the absence of democracy means that humanity will collectively fail to save ourselves and our planet. I refuse to allow that failure to occur. We must fight for democracy, as the freedoms and prosperity it brings is essential not only for our species’ happiness at the individual and societal level, but also for our species’ survival at large.
The People and Government of Ukraine have breathed the fresh air of freedom and democracy. The People of Ukraine, I believe, know that we cannot merely ask for a better world: we must build it ourselves, and we must build it together.
If the FSM had the resources to send Ukraine tangible assistance, such as the Americans and Europeans with their weapons and training, we would do so. All we have in the FSM is our voice, values, and principles, including our respect for human rights and our belief in what is right; and so, it is also our responsibility to use that voice, and to say out loud what we know is right and what we know is true.
Ukraine and the Ukrainian people deserve to be free of Russian oppression. Vladimir Putin acts with no nuance; he chooses to be a villain.
What was the FSM’s motivation for severing relations with Russia? It was our hope that, by doing so, we could show the People and Government of Ukraine that we extend to them peace, friendship, cooperation, and love in our common humanity, so that however alone you may feel in these dark days, you know that others are watching you, rooting for you, and supporting you however they can.
- President Panuelo, you also appealed for President Xi’s support to call for Russia’s withdrawal & cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and to put the world on a path to peace. How do you see China’s role as an intermediary in the war? Do you believe Beijing can influence Russia to stop its aggression?
The FSM has had diplomatic relations with China since September 11th, 1989. We in the FSM consider the People and Government of China to be our friends—so I was hopeful that President Xi would see how Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is objectively wrong. I knew that President Xi had recently met with President Putin on the margins of the Winter Olympics, and my understanding is that the two Presidents are close friends. My thinking was this: “If the Russian President does not like or trust the Americans, the Europeans, the Australians, or the Japanese enough to truly hear them when they say that this war is wrong, maybe the Russian President will listen to a close friend of his, the Chinese President, and maybe the FSM can convince China that they are the only ones who Russia will listen to at this time.”
I wrote a letter to President Xi at the end of March asking him if he could please call on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine and immediately cease hostilities. As of May 6th, 2022, I have not yet heard back from him. Nor has his ambassador in my country described to me why China has so far refused to publicly and openly advocate for “safeguarding peace and stability, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom,” which are the exact words China uses in their various Joint Communiques with bilateral and multilateral partners, including the FSM. I am told that Russia’s war in Ukraine is “not what China wants to see”, but I am also cognizant of social media, including where, in February, China’s Consul General in Osaka, Japan, said on Twitter that “The biggest lesson of what has happened in Ukraine is that a weak country must obey a strong country. A challenge will lead to a disastrous result.” Maybe that diplomat does not speak on behalf of all of China, and if that is the case then I would hope and expect for President Xi to kindly ask President Putin to withdraw from Ukraine.
Yes, I believe Beijing can influence Russia to stop its aggression, but I am also increasingly of the belief that if China wanted to influence Russia this way that they would have done so already. Silence is complicity, and silence by bigger countries who should be benevolent hegemons only makes the war more terrible. As a small island country, we lose the trust of these bigger countries when they cannot use their influence to benefit humanity.
- There was a message from your government that the FSM supports the removal of the Russian Federation in its capacity as President of the United Nations Security Council. Do you think that Russia should also be deprived of its permanent seat in the UNSC?
Yes, the FSM has supported—and will continue to support—the removal of the Russian Federation in its capacity as President of the United Nations Security Council.
Generally speaking, the United Nations Security Council has—in my view—required reforms, such as the inclusion of additional permanent members. The FSM has publicly and continually endorsed, for example, the inclusion of Japan as an additional permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
I believe I can see the argument for why Russia should remain on the United Nations Security Council; I think a critic would say “If Russia is taken off of the United Nations Security Council, then they might leave the United Nations altogether, and that will make the world less safe. This would make it more likely for the United Nations to collapse like the former League of Nations.” I hear that criticism, and I understand it. I do not agree with it.
What have we seen as of my writing today, on May 6th, 2022? We have seen Russia invade Ukraine for the second time after its initial invasion in 2014. We have seen Russia kidnap Ukrainians to bring them elsewhere, and we have seen Russia purposefully bomb hospitals and refuges clearly marked as hosting women and children. We have seen Russia use chemical weapons, and threaten to use nuclear weapons.
Threatening Ukraine and other countries with nuclear weapons is merely one of a voluminous number of signs that President Putin is a fragile, scared, feeble man whose biggest fear is that other people and countries have figured out that the stronger he intends to be, the weaker we see that he really is. It is not surprising that the kind of fellow who has imprisoned his political opponents, censored the free press, poisoned those he considered disloyal or threatening to his rule, and who made it his life’s mission to attack and undermine democracies like the United States of America and the United Kingdom by directly infiltrating and financially supporting their conservative parties, would also be the kind of fellow who would invade innocent countries with conscripted teenagers while threatening to blow it all up if he doesn’t get his way. The FSM Government views Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons the same way we view Putin himself: alarming and dangerous, yes, but the bigger risk is in allowing his minatory finger-wagging to carry so much weight that we collectively do not hold him accountable for his actions.
For these reasons, Russia must be permanently removed from the United Nations Security Council.
- Do you have anything else to say on the Russian invasion and happenings in Ukraine?
First, I will broadly speak to the People of Ukraine, and secondly to the People of Russia.
In my capacity as President of the FSM, I extend to all Ukrainians peace, friendship, cooperation, and love in our common humanity. Our two countries formalized diplomatic relations on September 17th, 1999. When Ukraine has won this war—and you will win it, I am sure, due to your perseverance, your grit, your determination, your love of democracy, your love of your families, your love of your neighbors, and your commitment to peace, unity, and liberty—it is my hope our two countries can foster greater relations with each other. The whole world will be stronger and more resilient with a truly free Ukraine, and the FSM needs allies like Ukraine in the promotion of peace across our planet. Peace is the only way we can collectively hope to combat Climate Change.
As for Russia, it remains the case that actionable commitments on behalf of Russia towards demonstrating a love of humanity is all that’s required of them for the FSM to renew our diplomatic relations. Additionally, the People & Government of the FSM continue to hold the People of Russia in high regard, as they are not responsible for President Putin’s actions. I am aware of a handful of Russian citizens who live in the FSM, such as those who are married to Micronesians, and they remain very much welcome in our country. The FSM’s concerns are with the Russian Government, and NOT with the Russian People at large. As an example, I have seen video of Russians in the U.S. Territory of Guam gathering together to protest President Putin; each and every one of those Russian citizens can feel safe and confident that the People and Government of the FSM welcomes them to our islands.
Finally, I would like to state very much on the record how personally humbled I am by the leadership of the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian People. I have seen President Zelenskyy and his administration boldly stay at home to fight, and I have been reading daily updates on the progress of the war. However little comfort it may be in these dark times, I hope that you, the People and Government of Ukraine, know that you have a friend in the FSM, and that we fully support you in your fight for freedom.
Slava Ukraini, and God Bless you all.